Inside Baseball

May 20, 2001

In The Swing
The Cardinals swept into first, thanks in large part to
surprising slugger J.D. Drew

Last Saturday afternoon the player who was tied for 10th in the
Cardinals' home run race dressed by his Busch Stadium locker,
virtually unnoticed. As his teammates celebrated a 5-2 win over
the Cubs, Mark McGwire, owner of one homer (in 21 at bats) and
out indefinitely with tendinitis in his right knee, slipped on
his sunglasses and--without a word--left the building. So it goes
in St. Louis, where Big Mac's big bat has barely been missed.

With a 13-4 defeat of the Cubs on Sunday that completed a
three-game series sweep, the Cardinals took over first place in
the NL Central from suddenly flat Chicago and established that
even without McGwire, they're the team to beat. If St. Louis
manager Tony La Russa is smiling over a bullpen that had a 3.18
ERA through Sunday and crowing about an offense that was scoring
5.61 runs a game, he must have been positively giddy over the
performance of rightfielder J.D. Drew, who, in his third full
season, seems to have become the player everyone had expected him
to be. Against the Cubs, Drew went 6 for 12 with three homers and
5 RBIs, lifting his season marks to .309, 14 HRs and 29 RBIs. In
McGwire's absence Drew, along with sensational rookie third
baseman Albert Pujols (.370, 13, 42), had emerged as a potent
middle-of-the-order power source. "I don't think anyone in this
lineup is going to hit 70 home runs," said Drew on Saturday,
shortly after he turned a 100-mph Kyle Farnsworth fastball into a
417-foot solo shot, "but if we all contribute a little more than
usual, we can make Mark's absence a little less painful."

Drew is only 25, which is easy to forget in light of the fact
that he's in his fifth pro season. He's a pariah to Philadelphia
fans because after the Phillies took him with the No. 2 pick in
the June 1997 draft, he demanded $11 million, then joined St.
Paul of the independent Northern League rather than sign with the
Phillies, who offered $2.05 million. St. Louis selected Drew in
'98 with the fifth choice in the first round and paid him $7
million over four years. He enjoyed immediate success with the
Cardinals, batting .417 in a 14-game September call-up.

Since then he has been good but hardly a star. In the spring of
2000, when St. Louis acquired Jim Edmonds from Anaheim, La Russa
moved Drew from centerfield to right. "I had, what, a week to
learn a new position?" says Drew, who batted .295 with 18 homers
last season. "I'm finally getting comfortable."

Where he has gotten most comfortable is at the plate. Drew has
always owned one of the big leagues' most compact, fluid swings,
but this year something has clicked. La Russa attributes much of
Drew's hitting success to an increased knowledge of opposing
pitchers, who can no longer sneak fastballs past him. "People
expect so many things out of some players, but we all need time
to develop," La Russa says. "J.D. has had that time, and you're
seeing the results."

Drew says comfort at home has led to comfort at the ballpark.
During the off-season he bought a condo in a suburb of St. Louis
and spent most of the winter there instead of back home in
Hahira, Ga. Brian Higgs, a high school friend from Hahira, moved
in, and the two hunt and fish together. "This is the most at-home
I've felt in my career," Drew says. "If you're comfortable in
your life, it helps in a lot of areas."

Umps on Beanballs
Distressing Discretion

It seemed like a good idea at the time. In February the
commissioner's office tried to put an end to beanball wars by
encouraging umpires to eject without warning any pitcher who an
ump deemed had thrown at a hitter intentionally. According to a
memo distributed by Major League Baseball vice president Sandy
Alderson, umpires were to begin using their discretion in
determining who was thrown at on purpose and who wasn't, keeping
in mind that "given the skill level of most major league
pitchers, a pitch that is thrown at the head of a hitter more
likely than not was thrown there intentionally." The umpire would
have the choice of tossing the pitcher without further ado or of
warning the two teams that the next time he believed a pitcher
had thrown at a hitter, that pitcher would be ejected.

The decree has created chaos and frustrated players and
managers, as umpires have applied their discretion
inconsistently. To wit: On May 2 umpire Paul Emmel warned
Cardinals righthander Matt Morris after Morris had plunked the
Marlins' Preston Wilson, but no automatic ejection was issued
the following inning after Morris hit Alex Gonzalez. "Even after
a warning, it's up to their discretion," complained Florida
manager John Boles.

On May 1 umpire Joe Brinkman issued a warning to Red Sox
righthander Pedro Martinez for hitting the Mariners' Edgar
Martinez in the helmet with a curveball, even though pitchers
rarely use breaking balls when throwing at hitters. Eight days
later, however, plate ump Al Clark did not issue a warning when
Boston second baseman Chris Stynes had his cheekbone fractured by
a fastball from Seattle's Aaron Sele. Clark did issue a warning
when Boston starter Frank Castillo retaliated a half-inning later
by throwing a fastball that grazed John Olerud's derriere, but no
one was ejected even though another batter was plonked and
several others buzzed with fastballs. "The new rules are
predicated on our judgment as to any intent involved," Clark said
after that game. "If I thought any pitches that came close to
guys were intended to hit them, they certainly would have
resulted in ejections."

"It's hard to understand sometimes when you're going to get a
warning," says one National League starter. "There doesn't seem
to be any clear-cut rule on when you get one, and that can be a
problem."

That's the flaw in the antibeanball decree: The interpretation
of a pitcher's intent varies from umpire to umpire. "You have to
have a feel for the game, for what's flagrant and what's not,"
says veteran umpire Bruce Froemming. "They want consistency, and
we're trying, but are you going to get it every single night
from every umpire? No. You can't clone umpires." --Stephen
Cannella

Thinking Defense
Sheffield's Labor of Glove

Gary Sheffield has been many things to many people. A slugger. A
leader. A whiner. The one thing Sheffield has never been,
however, is a top-notch outfielder. On good days Sheffield has
been borderline mediocre. On bad days he has been a stumbling
bumbler.

As the Dodgers continued their surprise run to the top of the
National League West last week, leftfielder Sheffield had been
shockingly good. Through Sunday he'd committed no errors and was
tied with the Phillies' Pat Burrell for the league lead in
outfield assists, with five. Although that statistic is often
misleading (outfield assist leaders are frequently the players
opposing teams run on most), Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy has
praised Sheffield's defensive improvement. "We can all talk about
what a great offensive player Gary is," says Tracy. "The fact
remains he's already won two games for us with his glove."

In the first inning of the Dodgers' 6-5 win over the Pirates on
April 25, Sheffield threw out two runners at the plate. Against
the Marlins on May 9, Sheffield threw out Eric Owens trying to
score from second on a single to left. Perhaps his best play came
on April 20 against the Padres. In the sixth inning Tony Gwynn
slapped a hit down the leftfield line. The ball was hit so well
that after turning first, Gwynn began cruising toward second.
When he saw the speed with which Sheffield got to the ball and
came up throwing, Gwynn sped up. Not only was he out by two feet,
but he also left the game and wound up on the DL with a strained
right hamstring. "The first thing I do every day when I step on
the field is work on fly balls and ground balls," says Sheffield.
"I work on my weakness first and then my hitting. I'm going to
show I can play defense."

Unlike some other less-than-ept outfielders (Benny Agbayani of
the Mets and Ben Grieve of Tampa Bay come to mind), Sheffield
has--but, to his credit, rarely uses--a fair excuse. In 1986 he was
signed by the Brewers as a shortstop, the position he'd played
throughout his youth. Milwaukee moved him to third base, where he
remained after he was traded to the Padres in '92 and then to the
Marlins midway through the following season. Florida soon moved
him to right field. He arrived in Los Angeles in '98, and the
Dodgers shifted him to left the next season. For the first time
since moving to that unfamiliar spot, Sheffield is talking about
the ultimate reward. "Everybody wants to win a Gold Glove," he
says. "I want it because of the way it looks. It looks better
than the MVP trophy."

Downsizing Dilemmas
All Talk, No Contraction?

The joke that pops up in baseball circles whenever contraction
is discussed is that the revenue disparities that hamper
competition could be evened out by eliminating two teams: the
Yankees and the Mets. In fact, for all its currency as the
sport's current buzzword, contraction doesn't carry much more
weight right now than that one-liner. A few owners publicly
support the idea--the Giants' Peter Magowan has called the Expos
"about as compelling a case for contraction as there is"--and
the lack of a surefire market into which a team might relocate
makes folding franchises a more attractive alternative than it
otherwise might be. Commissioner Bud Selig continues to say he
views the elimination of one or more of baseball's financially
weaker teams as a "serious option," but his office has yet to
offer any concrete plan for how it might fold teams or, for that
matter, evidence that it can do so without the cooperation of
the players' union.

Even the union appears to be unsure of what power it would hold
in a potential contraction showdown. "We're taking it seriously,
but we're not sure if we'll have a say in it," says Brewers
shortstop Mark Loretta, a member of the players' association
labor negotiating committee. "The owners haven't proposed it to
us, and it has not come up [in union discussions]."

The one certainty is that any move toward eliminating teams would
result in a tidal wave of lawsuits. Baseball's traditional
exemption from antitrust laws has been weakened in recent years,
so owners of teams on the brink could threaten Selig with
antitrust lawsuits to stave off elimination or raise the price it
would take to buy out their franchises. Lawsuits from a union
eager to save players' jobs would be inevitable, and baseball
might also be open to litigation from cities and stadium
authorities that lose teams.

"Owners, players, cities, hot dog vendors, parking companies
that depend on games for their livelihood--they all could sue
Major League Baseball," says a union source. "The possibilities
are pretty large." --S.C.

On Deck
Unlikely Nemesis

May 19, Giants at Braves

Over his 15-year career, San Francisco catcher Benito Santiago
(a .262 hitter with 179 home runs) has been known as much for
his work behind the plate as for his work at it. But in the eyes
of Atlanta's four-time Cy Young winner, Greg Maddux, Santiago
must loom as dangerous digging in as Mike Piazza does. In 70 at
bats against Maddux, who's scheduled to start against the Giants
on Saturday, Santiago has six homers, more than he has hit
against any other pitcher. No other active righthanded batter
has gone deep as often against Maddux.

For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Drew's team-high 14 homers in 35 games have helped St. Louis flourish even without Big Mac. COLOR PHOTO: RYAN REMIORZ/AP The Expos' Masato Yoshii wasn't tossed for this Diamondbacks-buster to Matt Williams. COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE

enemy Lines
An advance scout who covers both leagues reflects on what he saw
and heard last week.

As the season has progressed, the strike zone situation has
gotten better. Umpires are calling the high strike with pretty
good consistency. It's making the hitters more aggressive, and
it's also helping a lot of mediocre pitchers. Guys who can't
throw harder than 88 to 90 are getting outs with the high
fastball, because so many hitters can't touch it.... The best
story in the game has been Rickey Henderson in San Diego. He has
rejuvenated the Padres. When he signed, there was a question of
whether he'd be around long enough to get the two walks he
needed to tie Babe Ruth's record. Hell, he's been San Diego's
best offensive weapon.... It's about time Twins general manager
Terry Ryan started getting his due. He has been working in a bad
situation for years, but we all know how shrewd and intelligent
he is. There used to be talk about letting him go. No way....
This kid Alex Escobar with the Mets is special. His body, his
swing, his bat speed. No pitcher is going to overwhelm him, and
he doesn't get intimidated. He should be a full-time big league
outfielder by now.... I thought A's lefthander Mark Mulder was
an ordinary pitcher, but he's not nearly as soft as he looked
last year. I think he's paying attention to his teammate Tim
Hudson, because Mulder has learned how to move the ball around
and to take command of a game.... I keep hearing talk about the
Expos firing Felipe Alou, and it ticks me off. Felipe has been
loyal to that team when every good player left. He has always
gotten more out of young guys than any other manager. They're
making him the scapegoat for a poorly run organization in a city
where people don't want baseball. If he does get the boot, he
won't be unemployed for long.

in the Box

MARLINS 3, PADRES 0
May 13

There have been overpowering no-hitters and flukey no-hitters,
but never has there been a wilder no-hitter than Florida
righthander A.J. Burnett's flawed gem. Burnett nearly got his
no-no while throwing more balls than strikes. (He wound up with
65 strikes, 63 balls.) He faced a whopping 35 batters, nine of
whom he walked and another one of whom he hit with a pitch. The
only pitcher to issue more bases on balls during a complete game
no-hitter was Cincinnati's Jim Maloney, who on Aug. 19, 1965,
walked 10 Cubs--but in 10 innings. If anyone was likely to toss
such a wacky no-no, it was Burnett, who off the field is a
leather-pants-clad, spike-haired, tattoo-covered, nipple-pierced
eccentric. As always, he kept his sense of humor. "I'm not going
to lie to anybody," he said of the walk total. "That's
ridiculous."

Rich and Powerful

While power-hitting shortstops have become the norm in the
American League, they remain a rarity in the National. The sole
exception is the Giants' Rich Aurilia (left), who through Sunday
had seven homers while also leading the league in hitting with a
.393 average. Aurilia led National League shortstops with 22
home runs in 1999 and 20 in 2000, in the process becoming the
first shortstop in the league to have back-to-back 20-homer
seasons since Ernie Banks 40 years ago, and one of only four
ever to hit 20 or more in a season more than once. --David Sabino

SHORTSTOP, TEAM 20-HOMER SEASONS (HOME RUNS)
SEASONS

Ernie Banks, Cubs 7 '55 (44), '56 (28), '57 (43),
'58 (47), '59 (45), '60 (41),
'61 (29)

Rich Aurilia, Giants 2 '99 (22), 2000 (20)

Alvin Dark, Giants 2 '53 (23), '54 (20)

Barry Larkin, Reds 2 '91 (20), '96 (33)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)